A WELCOMING RESTAURANT AND WINE BAR THAT TRANSPORTS YOU

BY LAUREN BROWING

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JANET ROGERS

Driving along McCullough, you may have noticed an inviting replacement to the launderette in the prime corner space of The Yard Shopping Center. Known as Alberico Fine Wine, it moved in over a year ago, giving San Antonio food and wine followers several questions to discuss. “Is it a restaurant?” “Is it a wine bar?” “Is it a wine store?”

Although the answer is “all of the above,” owner Ric Ramos is quick to clarify Alberico’s primary intent is to be known as an approachable restaurant with uncompromising standards. With a few exciting changes over the last several months, including a new chef, Alberico’s is well on the trajectory of being a highly prized local favorite.

diningSetting the tone, Ramos brings a warm and personable nature to Alberico’s. All who encounter him will be inspired by his generous and welcoming attitude. He explains, “I learned the true nature of hospitality and serving others from my parents, so I named the restaurant ‘Alberico’ in their honor. It is a name that has remained in our family for generations.”

Ramos also brings an aesthetic sensibility to Alberico’s, using his travels to help guide him in the sophisticated design details. A few examples include the exterior green doors and the main dining room. The green doors, inspired by a trip to Bordeaux, beautifully capture the quaintness. The interior main dining room resembles a modern farmhouse or estate winery with its big open space and surrounding windows, perfect for natural light to pour in over the inviting pine floor before sunset. The walls contain images of captivating wineries, and the high ceiling suspends shimmering spiral chandeliers. The ambiance was so alluring we felt transported.

The food experience transported us as well. Brenton Childs is the new executive chef and is responsible for making some very favorable revisions in their menu as well as in their operations. Childs has an impressive résumé, having worked for Sandra Bullock and as the sous chef at Vespaio in Austin. Besides holding other prominent positions, he also completed a rigorous butcher certification program, and as a result he takes great pride in “nose to tail” cookery. Look for menu items and specials that reflect his skillful touch.

Overall, the menu flows with enticing dishes, so ordering was my biggest challenge. My husband and I followed our usual protocol of splitting entrees and sharing appetizers, and soon the fun began. We started with the baked brie, which came with toasted baguette slices and house-made grape jam. Since it’s often a staple at many private parties and gatherings I have attended, I was a little confused why such a seemingly trite appetizer was on the menu. Once it arrived on our table all warm and gooey, laced with a most uncommon but delicious grape jam, I quickly put my concerns to rest. In a home setting, the baked brie is on a buffet, usually icy cold and hard by the time I arrive in the line. If I am honest, I always skip past it — not worth the calories. Warm brie, however, brought straight from the oven to my table? Worth every rich bite — who can resist?

Next we tried the exquisite beef empanadas, made from C.A.B. rib-eye and sharp cheddar. From the baking process, they were surprisingly light and puffy, and we could easily have eaten the lobster and grilled corn empanadas as well, but opted to show some restraint and save them for our next trip. Instead, we chose the arugula and kale salad — a marvelous blend of earthy and peppery greens dressed with white wine and truffle vinaigrette.
For an entrée, I chose the Salmon L’Orleans. The filet of Scottish salmon was perfectly cooked — crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. All of the elements accompanying the salmon — the tender lentils, the spiced pineapple, the mustard herb butter — came together as a beautiful chorus, a harmonic display of sweet, salty, sour, spicy, bitter and umami flavors. This is a dish I could return for on a weekly basis.

Another notable dish was my husband’s scallops and Brussels sprouts. We immediately noticed the impressive sear, and yet the scallops were not dried out from over-cooking. Although Brussels sprouts have come into vogue on plates across San Antonio, even showing up in the prepared foods section of the grocery store, not all are created equal. Childs’ version is the addictive kind — they were executed with such precision and seasoning, I devoured my share like a ravenous kid eating a bag of potato chips!

So pleased with these dishes, we were eager to conclude with a few desserts. For chocolate lovers, I recommend “The Chocolate Experience,” two warm chocolate cakes oozing with dark, rich chocolate from the inside. It is their take on a molten chocolate cake, and it was undeniably superior to every warm brownie or warm chocolate cake version I have tried elsewhere in San Antonio. This one is the real thing. Don’t miss it. For tiramisu fans, their bananas Foster interpretation is delicious. Purists will be pleasantly surprised at how well the bananas complement the tiramisu flavors.

Overall, Ramos and his team are very attentive and accommodating, going above and beyond to ensure guests have a relaxed and unpretentious food and wine experience that is remarkable. If you have any questions or concerns about the menu, be sure to make them known. I watched a table of regulars beside me make some special requests, and chef Childs jumped right into action, even coming out personally to check on everyone. The camaraderie and spirit at Alberico’s are truly infectious, and I look forward to returning. Bon appétit!